Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I Am the Worrier

Despite my attempts to be a warrior, I remain a fretter not a fighter. Take our upcoming trip to the coast where we will feast Thanksgiving-style with some of our closest friends in a deluxe house overlooking the beach. What could be a lovelier way to spend the holiday? I am looking forward to cozying up to a fire while watching my husband attempt Dance Dance Revolution moves after stuffing ourselves on turkey, but my mind keeps jumping to improbable scenarios of terror and woe. For when I break out of my routine, my monkey mind goes into overdrive, jumping from branch to branch while shrieking frantically. Eee! Eee! EEEEEEEEEEEE!!! I know I’m not the only one to slip so seamlessly into worry mode where most other see only fun and relaxation. But I do think that I get bonus points for overblown hysteria. And creativity.

And now a short—and literary—list of things that probably won’t happen during our Thanksgiving trip to the coast, but, which, nonetheless, are haunting me:

1. WoMan vs. Nature

While driving over the coastal range, Mr. Crud and I are socked in by an unexpected snowstorm. In an uncharacteristic move, we decide to veer off the well-traveled highway in an attempt to find a shortcut to the small coastal town where we have never been. (It’s what someone would do in a movie, right?)
After driving a few miles, the road comes to an end. Our car gets stuck. The winding road that we’d been following has disappeared into a nightmare of white. No cell phone service.

“We’re doomed. Doomed!” I collapse in tears into Mr. Crud’s chest.

“Let’s not freak out.”

For a day we live on the bounty of snacks that we had packed for the trip. Eventually our only liquid is wine. We turn on the car for heat whenever we feel ourselves becoming scared or desperate. We sleep snuggled next to each other in the sleeping bags that Mr. Crud ridiculed me for bringing. Who’s laughing now, eh? We have moments of levity but I am terrified, remembering well the man who perished when his family veered from the highway. His wife and kids survived because she ate their snacks and was able to breastfeed her children. If only I was still pregnant. (Reason #543 to be pissed about the miscarriage.) After a few days, Mr. Crud insists on setting out on his own to try and get a signal on his cell phone.

“But they’re looking for us. We have to stay with the car. Remember that man?” I plead.

As soon as Mr. Crud steps out of the car, he is mauled by the bear who has been lying in wait to attack us. I can do nothing but scream and feel my reason for living slip away. All that is left to eat are raw Brussels sprouts. Can one eat raw Brussels sprouts?

See? I was right about the doomed part.

Homework: Can one eat raw Brussels sprouts?
Check the weather on the coastal ranges before leaving.
Charge up the cell phone.
Pack sleeping bags no matter how ridiculous it seems.

What Mr. Crud Will Say After Reading This:
Why didn’t you save me from the bear?
Cracker, please.

Moral: Never ever try anything new. It will only ruin your life and cause your spouse to be eaten by a bear.

2. WoMan vs. Herself

We somehow escape certain death on our trip to the coast and end up gleefully stuffed on turkey and pumpkin pie sitting around a crackling fire with our friends. In addition to our friends another couple, The Strangers, share the beach house with us. The gentleman half of the couple, Johnny, has a wild past. Mr. Crud assures me that he’s calmed down, but I’m still wary. We’re tipsy on wine. Johnny Stranger gets a sly look in his eye. “Hey, you all wanna do some ______________?”

A. Cocaine
No, I don’t’ really want to do cocaine. I’ve never been initiated into the ways of the white powder and 36 seems like too late an age to start. I’m a firm believer in getting the stupid shit out of your system before early middle age. But I’m also a prime candidate for peer pressure. My reputation precedes me. My friends egg me on for awhile, “Come on, Kt, it’s not a big deal.” Even Mr. Crud looks disappointed that I am refusing this offer of free expensive drugs.

“Hon, it’s not like it’s heroin,” he says when we’re alone.

I remember back to the late night/early morning on the eve of my departure from Portland during my first visit in 1995. A stripper friend of the guys I had been staying with grabbed my wrist and dragged me to the bathroom.

“Wanna try some meth?” She asked.

“Uh, sure,” I said so drunk was I that new drugs seemed like exactly the thing I should be doing.

When she pulled out a mirror and started cutting it up, I got cold feet. “Eh, you go ahead. I’m good.”

“Come on, just a little.” She said.

I had lost two friends to heroin at this point. Images of their purple lips and vacant eyes flashed through my head. But that was heroin…not meth! “Sure, okay.”

Never having snorted anything but a Pixie stick, I barely got any of the powder up my nose. I got enough to keep myself awake for the rest of the night AND for the entire, crammed bus trip to San Francisco that I embarked upon the next day. Wow, I get to experience my entire hangover instead of just the part I didn’t sleep through, I thought. F-ing great. Needless to say, I was cured of any curiosity about meth. Still, I worry about my susceptibility to pressure, especially when a devil-may-care drunk comes over me.

So, back to the beach house. I cave in and give cocaine a try. And have a heart attack. And there is no hospital for miles. Ironically, I am the only one certified in CPR, but you can’t give CPR to yourself.

B. Mushrooms
Same peer pressure scenario except this time I am being fed the line about how shrooms are a natural high. “These are mellow, not a big deal at all,” Johnny Stranger says.

Mr. Crud gives me the look. “I haven’t done these in years. I never thought I would again.”

“Okay, sure.” I say.

I’ve never had much luck with the supposedly mellow shrooms. The first time I took them, I ended up sitting with a friend in a cemetery, watching her teeth grow into fangs and her cheeks become hollow as we shared tales of body image woe.

“I mean, I know I’m not obese or anything, but look at these!” She pinched a hunk of flesh from her inner thigh.

Don’t worry about your thighs, I wanted to say, you’re face is melting! I ended the night vomiting in my dorm room toilet and calling my then-boyfriend to confess to every time I’d ever cheated on him. I do not recommend admitting infidelity to ones jealous boyfriend while coming down from hallucinogenic drugs.

My last experience with the devil fungi came during a holiday trip home a year after I’d moved to Portland. I don’t know if the mushrooms were bad or if we were simply too old and control-freaky to enjoy them, but it was a bad trip for the group. My friend Pete moaned on the floor. A TV flickered in the corner while we all desperately struggled to keep it together. Our attempts at coming down through chain-smoking were met with spotty success.

“I think I’m okay…aw shit.”

We tried music. We tried food. Mr. Crud (who was just Boyfriend Crud at the time) was across the country and all I wanted in the whole wide world was to bury my head in his neck and feel like myself again. I picked up the phone, but didn’t think I could figure out how to use it or, worse, how to speak coherent English.

I stepped into the snowy night to smoke my hundredth cigarette and forge a path to sanity. The drumbeat of the hallucinatory: “I’ll never be normal again. I’ll never be normal again” taunted me. How had I come back to a place I’d sworn never to go again?

“It’s Amateur Night!” my friend Sunny called from inside the house. I looked through the front window. My friends crowded the tiny television screen. They were bathed in the glow of Showtime at the Apollo Amateur Night. Hope swelled in my chest.

I stubbed out my smoke and went inside. A little girl over-emoted Whitney Houston-style. “I believe the children are our future--“
Something clicked back into place and all was well with the world again.

I swore to myself: never again.

Until the beach house. I’ve always been the friend to shake my head and say “I’m not sure about this, guys,” after some new plot of fun has been revealed. I get weary of my killjoying. I give in to my friends hop down the hallucinogenic path.

All my compatriots are having a fabulous, giggly time but I go insane. I don’t come down. I spend the rest of my days mumbling about Showtime at the Apollo, but nobody understands the curative powers of an audience boo-ing a Mariah wannabe.

Homework: Practice: “No, I do not want to take your drugs. Thank you for offering.”
Locate the closest hospital and Mapquest it.

What Mr. Crud Will Say After Reading This: “Nobody is going to make you take drugs. Nobody is going to bring drugs. We’re old, remember?”
“Cracker, please.”

Moral:
I believe the children are our future. Crack is wack.
Just say no.

3. WoMan vs. WoMan
There are always posses of rednecks with chainsaws lying in wait to hack us city slickers unfortunate enough to stumble into their path. This one actually hasn’t been weighing on my mind too much. Dare I call the absence of this worry, progress? I dare!

A HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

It's the Hate* I'll Miss the Most


Not exactly timely but not a bad way to pass the time. Somehow this nugget of writing got lost in the summer shuffle.

(* Okay, not hate-hate as in genocide hate but that light hate that brings a flush to the cheeks and a bluster to the soul.)

Last year the city council passed the so-called “duct tape ban,” disallowing the recent Portland tradition of marking your territory along the Grand Floral Parade route. City slickers marvel that anyone respected the chalk/duct tape/lipstick/masking tape boxes that Portlanders and suburban folk (Beaverton, I’m looking at you) drew along the route in hopes of reserving a prime slice of parade-watching real estate. When I moved here 13 years ago, I marveled too.

“Why are those chairs chained to that tree?”

“Parade.”

“Why is that normal-looking dude setting up a tent on the Burnside Bridge?”

“Parade.”

While many things that I initially found strange about Portland—the freakishly polite drivers, ???—soon blended into the fabric of my new and improved Pacific Northwest groove, I never got used to the territorial parade watchers.

“Who the hell do they think they are? Does the social contract include duct tape spots? It’s a public street, for Christ’s sake. It ruins the spirit of the thing, don’t you think?”

Every year Mr. Crud and I ranted and rolled our eyes. In fact the one part of Rose Festival I looked forward to was my Friday lunchtime walk downtown where I marched along the parade route in search of marked territory to deride. A silver box with “Smith family” written in blocky duct tape letters; two lawn chairs with “Robinsons” scrawled on the armrests in thick black marker then chained to an innocent bystander tree.

“Jeez,” I’d snort to myself. “Such dingdongery.”

When Randy Leonard proposed the ban, I was heartily in favor. At last someone with common sense who wasn’t afraid to stand up to the tape lobby. Not one to get involved in local politics much beyond voting, I emailed my first missive in support of Commissioner Leonard and his duct tape ban. The issue was fiercely debated in the pages of The Oregonian. Mr. Leonard was taken to task for his stereotyping of the supposed duct-taping Greshamites as pinky-ring wearing SUV drivers.

After much back and forth, the ban passed. Now parade enthusiasts would be allowed to camp out 24 hours before the parade. The catch is that they had to remain with their site, no marking and running. I couldn’t help but wonder about bathroom breaks, but that is for the police and the parade goers to hash out. I did not plan to join their ranks.

Friday morning, I pedaled in early for my yoga class. A short leg of my trip carried me along the parade route. At 5:45 a.m., a fellow donning Columbia Sportswear unfolded a tent along SW 4th. Tsk, tsk. Not until 10:00 a.m., I almost called out to the man, but a car was edging into my lane and I (for once) had more important business than not minding my own business.

At lunch I walked my normal parade-hating route, but saw only the tent guy and his gathered family along with some “official Rose Parade” flyers holding spots in front of the Hilton. A bit of a letdown all around.

That night I went home to Mr. Crud and shared my tales of my parade hating-less afternoon. Sure, I could still complain about out-of-town drivers and all the tarted up young ladies waiting at the Waterfront for the fleet to come in, but the duct taping was such an integral part of the Rose Festival hating experience. I had to face it: I missed it.

I was reminded of the brown Volvo that remained parked outside the house where we lived 7 years ago. The house was in an industrial part of town so the streets were often used as a dumping ground for unwanted cars, trash, and shopping carts that no longer cut the mustard. Every day over coffee I watched the Volvo, waiting for the young man, a friend of one of a neighbor’s, who slept in its back seat to emerge.

“Still there,” I said to Mr. Crud with a snort.

We walked past the car on our way to breakfast, peering in at the makeshift bed through the sheet and towel-curtained windows.

“Must be kind cramped in there,” I said.

“Oh so now you’re concerned about his comfort,” Mr. Crud said.

Bitching about the car became part of the daily routine, an addendum to the coffee and paper. We saw the occupant less and less. The towel-curtains sagged.

“Do you think he found a place to live? Is he living next door?” I asked.

Mr. Crud shrugged. “Maybe.” Then went back to his own life.

Then it was gone.

“The brown Volvo!” I hollered as I lugged my bike up the stairs after a day at work.

“Yep, they towed it away an hour ago.”

“Oh.” I dropped my bike and unhooked my helmet.

“Aren’t you glad? He’s not taking up a parking spot anymore. You don’t have to worry about his comfort anymore.”

I punched Mr. Crud on the shoulder.

The next day I sipped coffee by the window. I gazed at the spot where the brown Volvo once lived seemingly only to annoy me.

“You miss it don’t you,” Mr. Crud said.

I nodded. Damn straight.

“The brown Volvo” has become shorthand for those things that I once hated and then realized too late that I had found much pleasure in the hating of them.

A partial list of things that I would really miss hating on:

Courtney Love
Hummers (they won’t be manufactured anymore—good for the environment, but bad for my hating)
Plastic surgery
Bad drivers
Fixies
Bad fixie drivers
Young, hip, beautiful writers
Anyone associated with McSweeney’s (am willing to trade hating for loving if McSweeney’s publishes me)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Oh Crud! Jury Duty


I am a patient boy,
I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait,
My time is water down a drain

--Fugazi

(In the Sad but True Files—One can purchase a “Waiting Room” ringtone. The man strikes again.)


Jury duty! As soon as I found out that I would get my regular salary for the day (or 2 or, in the case of a grand jury, 30) that I would miss serving my civic duty, I got exclamatory about the opportunity.

“Jury duty on Election Day, how more civically involved can you get?” became my line of choice when telling people about my impending service.

Most people roll their eyes and sigh at the thought of spending a day with a crush of their fellow humanity. I imagined the experience as an updated version of high school gym class. Gym was the melting pot, one of the few classes where anyone could appear on the roster. A prospect both exciting and terrifying. I was challenged to my first and only round of fisticuffs in my freshman gym class.

“I’m gonna kick your ay-ass,” my nemesis said.

“Oh-okay. Go ahead. I won’t fight back,” I said, trying to sound defiant in my wimpitude.

I met my first sort of boyfriend in my sophomore gym class.

“You look beautiful today,” he stumbled over the sentence in his heavy French accent. He’d clearly been practicing.

“Merci,” I replied to show how chic and wordly I was.

I met friends outside of the circle of my normal group of smartypants and jocks, leading me down the marvelous path to suburban punk-dom. French boyfriend-ish boy led to punky skater boys led to me mentally seceding from the high school rat race in favor of alternative horizons. (Well, in theory at least.)

I didn’t think any such revelations would be had during my day of jury duty, but there was a possibility for categorization, alliances, rivalries, especially on Election Day. Would the young professionals smirk in a corner, shaking out copies of the Wall Street Journal and muttering about their lost time-as-money? Would the artsy among us cluster at the opposing wall, comparing our art-writing-music credentials while sneaking glares at the suits? Would there be a geek component talking D & D in the corner? What of the innocent political discussion over burnt coffee? Could it turn into an Obama v. McCain riot? Eh, not too likely in blue as blue can be Multnomah County. The closest we came to any sort of political incident was when the remote control was commandeered from the woman who had turned on the Christian Broadcasting Network. Maybe she thought it was CNN.

In reality, jury duty was akin to air travel except I didn’t know if I’d be departing and wasn’t sure if I wanted to go in the first place.

I arrived at the courthouse just shy of the mandatory 8:00 reporting time. The line at the entrance curled around the doorway and down the leaf-strewn sidewalk. At the sight of the x-ray tube inside the door, I felt a sudden attack of criminal magical thinking. The impulse similar to slamming on the breaks when seeing a police car even if one is driving the speed limit. The x-ray machine started a chain reaction of worry rushing through my brain: Had I ever carried weed in this bag? Did it smell like pot? Were bike lights suspect? Did I stash a balloon of heroin up my ass and forget about it?

Plastic bowls were stacked on a table outside the entrance. A list of suggested uses for the bowls: a place for ones keys, cell phones, iPods sat beside the table. My criminal magical thinking blurred my common sense. Does this mean I have to remove my cell phone, keys, and iPod from my bag and put them in the bowl? It must. Why else would it be there? I rifled through my bag and grabbed the offending items, dropping them in a bowl. I looked around. Nobody else was rifling and dropping. Dumbshit. I plunked the bowl back on the table and tossed the keys and iPod back in my bowl. The jury instructions had mentioned something about putting cell phones through the machine so I set it next to my bag on the conveyor belt. My bag promptly fell on top of the phone. Craptastic. The woman scanning the conveyor belt would think I was trying to pull one over on them, hiding my phone beneath a bag bulging with my water bottle, book, journal, and enough snacks to get me through a weekend on the trail.

After ditching the bag, I had the metal detector to contend with. In my younger days, during my blue collar phase, I set off all metal detectors with my steel-toed boots. Sometimes the underwire in my bra causes me to be wanded by Homeland Security, but my last few trips through airport security were incident-free.

I took a deep breath and marched through the arch. Beeep!

“Try removing your jacket,” the uniform said.

I flung both of my jackets on the conveyor belt and tried again. Beeeep!

“Maybe it’s the boots.”

I kicked them off as quickly as possible, feeling the heat of the eyes of everyone waiting in line on my back. Onto the conveyor belt they went.

Take three in socks on the wet, leafy floor. Beeep!

I was now officially a bottleneck. “Could it be the necklace?” I asked, whipping it off and barely missing the cheekbone of the annoyed woman standing behind me.

The uniform shrugged. Give it a shot. I piled the necklace in a bowl and gave it another go.

Ah the sweet sound of silence.

As I struggled to pull on my boots and throw my jacket over my back, I saw my cell phone on the floor beneath the rollers at the end of the conveyor belt. I dove to get it so quickly that I brushed a woman’s thigh.

“Ha, sorry,” I said, trying my best what-are-you-gonna-do look. She scowled and bustled on her way. “Lawyer,” I hissed.

I glanced at my watch. Almost 8:00. The jury instructions were very specific about arriving on time. Exclamation points were involved. Exclamation points of emphasis instead of jubilation. After the minor security snafu, I felt disoriented, somehow missing the huge sign: JURY DUTY THIS WAY in the lobby that I noticed later in the day. I wandered wide-eyed counting doors and temporarily forgetting numerical order.

I wasn’t the last to arrive. I exchanged my summons for a badge on a plastic necklace. Juror 0007692. Not a snappy ring to that number. The room was the size of half the old gym in my high school. Computers, all taken by internet surfers, lined one wall. At the other end of the room lockers flanked the doors to the bathrooms with a small kitchen tucked in behind a partition. Rows of black semi-cushy office chairs took up most of the room. 6 faux-wooden tables scattered around the area next to the kitchen with a few slouchy blue couches thrown in for good measure. The panic of the cafeteria set in. Where am I gonna sit? Who’s gonna sit with me? What if I choose wrong?

I spotted an aisle seat and made a beeline for it as if I was on an actual airplane and would need to stretch out my legs during the long flight. The 20-something college student in the chair next to me didn’t look up as I situated myself. I pulled out my water bottle and journal and hunkered in to what I (silently) declared to be the Temporary Republic of Kt.

“Greetings. If I may have your attention.” A smiling woman in a white shirt and slim black skirt stood at the podium in front of the 2 sections of chairs. “I’m Judge Bigwig. Welcome.” She gave us the rah-rah democracy-in-action speech to get us psyched up to judge our community members and sit in a glorified airport for a day.

“Even if you don’t serve on a jury, your presence sends a message. Just by being here settlements may be reached. Just because of you.” She said, emphasizing the ‘you.” I am a sucker for rhetorics. I got a little chill at the thought of my compatriots and I being passive thugs of justice.

A few minutes later the HBIC, a bald guy with a 70’s office drone feel, gave us the no-frills rundown of the procedures for the day. To sum up: Don’t be an asshole and don’t leave unless we tell you to leave.

I removed my umbrella from my bag and scribbled away in my journal. I had big plans to purchase a laptop before today so that I could experiment with live blogging. I knew that the audience for my live blog of my day of jury duty would be small, but mountains have been made of smaller molehills. At least I could have been obsessively updating my Facebook page.

My morning as Facebook Status Updates (which are starting to mediate my experience in real life to a disturbing degree):

Katie is writing in her journal.

Katis is writing a letter to Isabel.

Katie is wondering when somebody will turn on the TV. Already 10:00 and no TV? Aren’t we fancy.

Katie wishes the TV would be turned off. Who the fuck turned on Pat Robertson?

Katie is getting up to pee. Should she leave her bag? Is this room secure?

Katie is surprised that the bathroom isn’t so bad. Still, she is praying that she doesn’t have to take a crap. Some things are private.

Katie just noticed her boss’ friend is sitting 2 chairs away. Dang! Even if she gets released early she might be busted out. Must not make eye contact.

Katie is inching her chair away from her jittery neighbor in hopes that she won’t feel the bounce of his chair against her shoulder.

Katie will not be taking a break with the other jurors so as not to relive the security checkpoint badness.

Katie has to pee. Again.

Katie does not know if she wants to serve on a jury or not. Is she fit to judge?

Katie is psyched for an hour and a half lunch break. Woohoo!

After a long lunchtime walk, I did the security striptease and quick-dress and return to the Temporary Republic of Kt. So far two juries had been called. The HBIC assured us that more were to come. In other words, don’t get too excited about leaving early, suckers.

I pulled out a George Pelecanos paperback borrowed from Mr. Crud. Someone finally changed CBN to CNN where Wolf Blitzer and the Dlection Day flunkies toured around their souped up studio. The words blurred before my eyes as Election Day jitters took root. After 8 years of George W. Bush, I feel demoralized. A democratic president seems like an impossible dream, like the Clinton years were a fluke. In the corner of the screen numbers counted down the time until the first polls closed. Announcements about trouble at polls flashed on the screen. Not again!

I turned back to my book. My greatest fear of the day was getting called to be on a jury while I was in the can. I doubted I could holler “Here!” from the corner stall loud enough to be heard. I imagined my compatriots scanning the crowd for the missing me as the HBIC tonelessly said “Kt Crud, Kt Crud, Ms. Kt Crud,” into the microphone. This fear did give my trips to the bathroom a certain drama they otherwise lacked. I was in a battle against time. The fate of democracy weighed heavy on my shoulders. I washed my hands in record time.

A sign on the tampon and maxi-pad dispenser read This Machine Equipped with Audible Alarm. I made a note to myself not to try and beat the tampon machine into submission. Had they really had trouble with menstruating women jacking tampons?

At 2:30, the bald guy, our fearless leader for the day, stood at the podium.

“We’re going to call 40 names. The rest of you are free to go.”

The tension in the room grew taut. TVs went mute. All eyes became laser beams on the podium. We waited with held breath. After each name was read, a dejected “Here” or an annoyed “Present” rang out in the room. Not me, not me, not me was the beat pulsing in the background.

“For those of you who were counting, that was 40.”

Free at last. I stepped into the rainy afternoon, opened my umbrella and trudged up the hill to my office where I had stashed my stuff for the day. The exclamation points from the moment of receiving my summons had faded. I would not be filling out a questionnaire or answering lawyer’s questions or seeing how justice in America really worked. Mr. Crud served on a drunk driving jury where it was so painfully obvious that the guy was guilty it made everyone feel embarrassed for him. I am nothing if not judgmental—working on it, thank you very much—but the thought of declaring someone guilty makes me nervous. They won’t be on the wrong end of a frown or my squinty eyes, but prison. Mr. Crud was sobered and slightly disturbed by the workings of the trial. I’ve had enough disillusionment in the last few years to last a lifetime so maybe I should feel relieved that my number wasn’t picked. Despite all the big issues floating around my world, I can’t stop thinking about that tampon machine. Really, who steals a courthouse tampon?